Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Hotel Seeks High Court Review of Living Wage Ordinance
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Attorneys for the Century Corridor Hotels have filed a petition with the California Supreme Court seeking review of a Dec. 27 ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal upholding a Los Angeles city ordinance mandating higher minimum wages for employees of hotels near the Los Angeles International Airport, the company announced yesterday.
The petition seeks review of Div. Four’s decision last month reversing Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe’s order preventing the city from implementing the Airport Hospitality Enhancement Zone Ordinance, which was enacted in February of last year. In an opinion by Justice Nora Manella, the Court of Appeal ruled that the ordinance was properly enacted after an earlier version was blocked by a referendum petition.
The company argues that—by ruling that the City of Los Angeles can pass a slightly modified ordinance and avoid facing the voters—the Court of Appeal has threatened the power of citizens to challenge the actions of government through referendum. The court ruled that the two ordinances were sufficiently different that the enactment of the second did not violate the rights of those who petitioned to block the first.
Ruben Gonzalez, a company spokesperson, said that “[n]o matter how you approach the Living Wage issue, the purest form of democracy in our state is now at risk if the appellate ruling is allowed to stand, and every citizen’s ability to challenge its government will be greatly limited.”
He said that the company believes that “the right of referendum is a critical power of the people of California,” and that the reversal “should be reviewed by the highest court in our state to protect the right of citizen participation.”
Efforts by Mayor Antonio Villaragoisa and council members to improve wages for hotel workers culminated in November of 2006 in the enactment of the Hotel Worker Living Wage Ordinance. It would have mandated that hotels within a business improvement district abutting the airport and containing 50 or more guest rooms pay at least $9.39 per hour plus health benefits, or $10.64 per hour without health benefits.
The ordinance was opposed by hotel operators, taxpayers, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, who submitted more than 100,000 signatures on a referendum petition, thus obligating the council to repeal the ordinance or submit it to a public vote, and suspending it in the interim. On Jan. 31 the council repealed the ordinance, but three weeks later it enacted the hospitality zone ordinance.
The new ordinance included the same wage mandates, but it also included provisions committing the city to spending money for street improvements, a study of how to attract new business, and training of workers for positions in hotels and restaurants.
It also provided for a phase-in of the minimum wage increases, and a procedure by which individual hotel operators could seek exemption on the ground that the requirements were overly burdensome or that its workers had agreed to waive the requirements in a collective bargaining agreement.
Several of those who had opposed the original ordinance sued to block the new enactment, contending that it was essentially the same as the measure against which the referendum petitions were filed. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs temporarily barred the city clerk from publishing the measure before the local affiliate of the labor union Unite Here, which had been allowed to intervene, filed a Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.6 challenge to Janavs.
The case was then sent to Judge David Yaffe, who held that the changes made in the second ordinance were “to a great extent illusory” and “not sufficient to materially change” those aspects of the first ordinance that were objected to by the petitioners. He agreed that the ordinance was invalid and barred its publication and implementation.
But Manella, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the differences between the two ordinances were substantial enough that the enactment of the hospitality zone ordinance did not violate the state constitutional rights of those who signed the petitions challenging the repealed wage ordinance.
The case is Rubalcava v. Martinez (Unite Here Local 11), 07 S.O.S. 7587.
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